Finding a Path toward a Positive Turn: Facing Trump, the Alt-Right, and the Corporate Oligarchy in Theory and Practice

The resurgence and revitalization of right-wing populism on the national scene in the United States is, among other things, an integral part of a broader backlash against the interrelated struggles for multicultural democracy, indigenous
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  |||||||||||||550 |||  ||| 551 ||||||||||||| Finding a Path toward a Positive Turn: Facing Trump, the Alt-Right, & the Corporate Oligarchy in Theory & Practice Faye V. Harrison, Professor of Antropology & Graduate Academic Advisor Of African American Studies, University of Illinois. President of the International Union of Antropological & Ethnological Sciences (2013-2018).The resurgence and revitalization of right-wing populism that has erupted on the national scene of the United States is, among other things, an integral part of a broader backlash against the interrelated struggles for multi-cultural democracy, indigenous self-determination, environmental justice, racial and gender equity, and academic freedom. The struggle for and enactment of academic freedom has the potential to produce alternatives to the epistemologically violent regime of truth that prevails (Foucault 1991; Gaventa 2003). It is important to emphasize the impact of a “broader backlash” on the progressive, albeit uneven, trends that have emerged over the past several decades as the legacy of earlier social movements. The neoconservative campaign to “make America great again,” articulated in the political rhetoric of Donald Trump, is not only associated with the most flagrant and vitriolic performances of white nationalism and white supremacy. The backlash problem cannot solely be attributed to the elements that were once considered only on the fringe of mainstream political life and, therefore, could be dismissed for being aberrant and a minor departure from the established norm. There exists a much wider constituency and sociopolitical base that subscribes to problematic but, within a volatile racially stratified society and world, insidious commonsense notions such as colorblindness (the belief that race, as the targets of discrimination experience it, is no longer salient), preferential treatment (the assumption that Black and Latinx upward mobility is based only on preferential quotas), undeserved advances (stigmatized minorities’ upward mobility not being based on merit and hard work), and reverse racism (the histrionic assertion that whites are the real victims of racism). These ideas discredit the legitimacy of struggles for greater inclusion and equity as well as grievances against discriminations and human rights violations that are grounded in structural racism and its related oppressions. This worldview lends itself to supporting the practice of scapegoating innocent people and blaming racialized minorities and certain targeted immigrants for problems over which they have no control and did not create. If taken to their logical conclusions, these ideas criminalize antiracist, antisexist, anti-heterosexist, and anti-homophobia activists for asserting and acting upon their constitutional rights. Their legitimacy is diminished or altogether denied by treating them as the moral and political equivalents to (or as the inferior variants of) their rightwing opponents. The implications of this worldview’s logic are also reflected in how the United States deals with the world at large. White Nationalism’s State-Sanctioned Violence During the August 11-12, 2017 “Unite the Right” events on the University of Virginia campus in historic Charlottesville, the home of Thomas Jefferson (an early 19 th  century president and owner of enslaved laborers), right-wing protestors committed indefensible offenses in provoking and assaulting antiracist counter-protesters, most of whom were peaceful. A violent assault involving a man deliberately driving into a crowd of counter-demonstrators resulted in the death of a woman and the serious injury of 19 other people ( The Guardian  2017). The weekend of rallies and marches were organized to unify the white nationalist movement and, most immediately, to protest the plan to remove the General Robert E. Lee confederate war monument, which memorializes the 1860-1865 Civil War from the point of view of retrogressive southern ideals, among them slavery and all of its ideological and political-economic justifications.  |||||||||||||552 ||| President Donald Trump displayed his sympathy for the far-right by his remarks about the violence, injuries, and death in Charlottesville, where white nationalists, neo-nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan converged to protest the removal of a monument that they claimed symbolizes white heritage in what they insist is a white country. Going against the grain of the evidence on how the violence was instigated, Trump claimed that both sides were at fault and that there are very fine people on both sides of the political divide ( Time , August 15, 2017). He refused to criticize the white nationalists, who marched on Friday night with lit torches shouting incendiary chants such as “Blood and Soil,” “Jews Will Not Replace Us,” and “White Lives Matter.” The latter chant was accompanied by monkey noises that were directed at Black counter-protestors, who understood the indexical reference to the history of popular and scientific racist claims that Africans were less than human and closer to monkeys and apes in the Great Chain of Being (Wade 2012). Racist cartoon images of the former president, Barack Obama, depicted him and his wife, the First Lady Michelle Obama, as primates ruling over a dystopic landscape reminiscent of the Planet of the Apes (Sauer 2011). Although contemporary racism is often expressed in a culturalist or culture-centered idiom rather than in a language of biology, an evolutionist discourse akin to 19 th  and early 20 th  century Social Darwinism is also deployed to dehumanize African descendants in contexts of flagrant racist conflict, intolerance, and hate. However, even more common in everyday life is for more tacit or covert speech acts to have the effects of infrahumanizing African descendants, conveying the assumption that they embody and represent emotions, behaviors, and physical attributes that are deemed to be less human that those characterizing or those imagined to characterize the superiority of the dominant population.. On Saturday the tensions in Charlottesville escalated. The white supremacists yelled racial epithets and even shouted that Dylann Roof, the young white man who in 2015 murdered nine innocent people in a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was a hero ( Washington   Post  , August 14, 2017; August 18, 2017). Within some sectors of the white supremacist movement, there is the argument that a conspiracy to commit white genocide exists (Wilson 2018). Immigration, racial integration, interracial marriage, and racial minorities’ enjoyment of civil/political and human rights are construed as part of a strategy or conspiracy to disempower and commit genocide against whites. In their view, antiracism is a code word for white genocide. Dylann Roof represents a soldier combatting a crime against white humanity. The promotion and popularization of such a regime of truth, codified by some sectors of the academy, articulated at the top echelons of political authority, and expressed in vernacular terms by an array of ordinary people, depreciates the humanity and distorts the historical agency of those categories of racially subjugated people who are being Othered, displaced, and positioned outside or along the margins of the boundaries of national belonging by the ideology and politics of white nationalism. In the worst case scenarios, those defined as outsiders and non-citizens are being pushed into punitive dehumanizing spaces of social death (Cacho 2012, Patterson 1982), making them disproportionately vulnerable to being subjected to physical death. This process is rationalized in terms of the perceived threats that these populations present to Euro-Americans’ personal and national (or nationalist) security as well as to their cultural heritage, traditional demographic predominance, and political domination. “To make America great again,” as Donald Trump promised in his 2016 presidential campaign, the most stigmatized, scapegoated populations must be managed, subjected to repressive mechanisms of social control by means of tactics involving policing via detention, deportation, or disposal. These objectives and outcomes are being sought via three interrelated “wars”—the war on terrorism, the war on undocumented immigrants, and the war on crime (Harrison 2013). These wars have fostered the formation and expansion of three interrelated carceral complexes: the terror-industrial complex, the immigrant detention complex, and the prison industrial complex (Rana 2016 ; Ho and Louky 2012 ; Davis 2003; Marable et al. 2007 ). It appears that the State collaborates and colludes with non-state actors such as right wing hate groups and vigilantes (e.g., George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who murdered unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012), who help to magnify and intensify the moral panic (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 2009) over difference and diversity, construing them as sources of “white genocide.” By not being held accountable for the crimes they commit, as instantiated by a pattern of court acquittals, these actors’ violence is granted the de facto status of being state-sanctioned, that is, permitted and rationalized by the authority of the state.  ||| 553 ||||||||||||| Since the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016, right-wing extremism, ranging from grassroots actors to higher status ideologues with more prestigious accoutrements of cultural and economic capitals (e.g., former Breitbart News chairman and past White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon), has acquired a level of state endorsement publicly unknown or unremembered by a populace deeply enculturated in “organized forgetting” (Giroux 2014). Most Americans have historical amnesia when it comes to earlier periods in our history when right wing political blocs persecuted, prosecuted, and, in some cases, promoted the extrajudicial lethal demise of intellectuals, artists, and labor organizers, and others who espoused what were considered to be anti-establishment and anti-American points of view. These ranged from advocating the rights of full citizenship for racially-minoritized communities to, especially during the McCarthyist portion of the Cold War in the 1950s, promoting socialist and communist alternatives to the capitalist status quo (McDuffie 2011). If we go back to the early 20 th  century, for example 1915, we’ll find President Woodrow Wilson hosting a screening of D.W. Griffith’s three-hour inflammatory, racist film “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House before an audience comprising cabinet members and their families. The film’s representation of Black people, particularly Black men, was highly controversial, depicting them as unsuitable for American citizenship and participation in governance, and as being hypersexual threats to the chastity of white women and the purity of the white race. The terrorist Ku Klux Klan was portrayed as a heroic force defending the moral integrity and white racial identity of the nation. The film and its positive reception by the highest political authority became a major recruiting tool for the Neo-Confederate KKK, which was revitalized and able to expand nationally as a result (Franklin 1979; NPR 2015). Today, the White House is once again emboldening the KKK along with other white supremacist hate groups that comprise the “Alt-Right,” a range of far-right groups that are critics of mainstream conservatism and are quite explicit in their espousal of white nationalism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and heteropatriarchy. Included are organizations that represent branches of the KKK and the Neo-Nazi movement and those that identify as white nationalist, skinheads, Christian fundamentalists, neo-confederates, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBTQ. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups across the United States, the numbers of active hate groups have grown since Donald Trump made his entrance upon the political stage during the presidential campaign (  Intelligence Report   2018). Trump and his team coopted white nationalist preoccupations to build an electoral base among disgruntled whites who fear or are experiencing downward mobility, and are unable to achieve the “American Dream” to which they feel entitled in a “white man’s country” that is supposedly being overtaken by unwanted immigrants, undeserving racial minorities, Jews, and Muslims. However, Trumpism has a bipolar base of support that is fraught with considerable contradictions. Its populist postering belies the power that corporate oligarchs, plutocrats, and the financial elite wield in the implementation of what appears to be a project that has been characterized as a democracy under authoritarian siege or as a neo-fascist regime (Pierson 2017). Statecraft influenced by the forces of white populism and/or those of corporate oligarchy presents major dangers to democracy. Anthropologist Michael Taussig argues that the Trump era is also a danger to the fabric of society, which is becoming more and more alienated or disfigured by “disembodiment, meaning bodies torn from themselves, from each other, and the body of the world” (Taussig 2017). Epistemic and Sociopolitical Responses to the Wider Sociopolitical Milieu Of particular interest to social scientists are the ways that new progressive social movements and the various actors within civil society and spheres of engaged citizenship that are supportive of them will navigate the current political terrain. Can they achieve new interventions that disrupt the current political order and find innovative ways to forge democratic paths to justice, sustainability, and humane intercultural sociability? Will coalitions formed around and within these movements engender the kinds of publicly engaged, movement aligned intellectual projects that will help us move away from what the South African-based Cameroonian  |||||||||||||554 ||| political theorist Achille Mbember (2015) has described as the “negative moment” of convergent crises affecting South Africa and many other societies? In this context, a “murky muddle” obscures and inhibits the epistemic clarity that might move intellectuals toward what U.S.-based Jamaican anthropologist David Scott (2004) has envisioned as a potentially new cognitive-political conjuncture in which a new field of argument allows us to ask and conceptually frame different kinds of questions. The hope is that those sorts of enabling questions can potentially lead beyond the limits and traps of what Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano (2000) has defined as the enduring coloniality of power and knowledge that is sustained by the hierarchical ranking of races and nations. Drawing on Quijano and putting him into conversation with Caribbean and African diaspora intellectuals across an array of fields, Jamaican theorist Sylvia Wynter (2003) stunningly interrogates the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom that must be unsettled before racially dehumanized people can achieve a full humanity freed from the hegemonic overrepresentation of “Man” that exists within the Eurocentric, North Atlantic epistemic and ontological regime. Two of the salient sociopolitical formations that have brought significant critique, commentary, and redefined political agendas into the U.S. public sphere over the past several years are #BlackLivesMatter, formed in the wake of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal, and the Standing Rock Water Protectors’ Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (Williams 2015; Dhillon and Estes 2016). The implications of both of these interventions have been timely and generative in light of the Trump administration’s and the far right’s views on the issues at stake. #BlackLivesMatter was sparked by a relatively recent spate of state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings of unarmed African Americans, mainly men but also women. This movement, inaugurated by three black queer women activists, unapologetically addresses racial profiling, police brutality, the failure to hold brutal police accountable, and mass incarceration as a serious human rights matter. The movement also connects the devaluation of Black lives in lethal policing to other dimensions and domains of antiblackness and white supremacy, and it takes a holistic, intersectional approach, which comes from the influence of Black feminism and Afrocentric articulations of womanism, both of which address how race interplays with class, gender, sexuality, and the environment. From Ferguson, Missouri (where adolescent Michael Brown was killed in 2014) to Flint (where lead poisoning reached crisis proportions due to political decisions that were made related to water management) connections are made both conceptually and politically. If we take a look at the networks of alliance and solidarity, it becomes apparent that these Black activists understand that all lives matter while, at the same time, there are some lives (Indigenous lives, the lives of targeted immigrants, targeted Muslims, and, for instance, transwomen of color.) that are more vulnerable than others to being extinguished. Representatives from #BlackLivesMatter have stood with the Great Sioux Nation at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where matters germane to self-determination, environmental justice, and corporate capital’s encroachment on indigenous territorial and spiritual sovereignty are seriously at stake (Mays 2016). The coalition that has congealed in support of Standing Rock water protectors’ fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline includes environmentalists, Native Americans from other tribes and nations, and indigenous representatives from other parts of the Americas and the world. The Dakota Access Pipeline is an infrastructural development whose aim is to transport crude oil from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota to refineries in Patoka, Illinois. The project ensued without the consent of the Great Sioux Nation, whose environmental concerns and sovereignty were dismissed (Red Owl Collective 2016; Water Protector Legal Collective 2016). The nominal commitment the United States government made when it signed the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples three  years after it went into effect in 2007 is meaningless in light of President Trump’s contempt for environmental and climate change-related concerns ( New York Times  2018). The hashtag-facilitated activism of #BlackLivesMatter is part of a larger field of collective action in which Black women organizers are in the forefront in imagining which way forward and in building networks across boundaries of differences. The Southern Human Rights Organizers Network (SHRON) is an organization of multi-ethnic, multi-issue groups, largely but not exclusively based in the southeastern region of the United States. Coordinated by a network of African American and Afro-Caribbean American women, SHRON uses the principles of international
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